Alert Bay’s Residential School


Some time before our own island hopping journey last month, some dear friends had done a similar trip a bit earlier going farther north but also visiting Sointula and Alert Bay. They warned us about a very disturbing sight at Alert Bay. Indeed, as we approached Cormorant Island on the ferry and saw the village, we were stunned by the vision of a huge prison-like brick building standing out above the smaller structures.


This is St. Michael’s Indian Residential School. It operated from 1929 to 1974. When the school was closed, the First Nations residents of the island took over the ownership and decided to leave it standing, its deteriorating condition being a horrific testament to a tragic past of cultural genocide.


The Indian residential school system was implemented in 1879 by the Canadian government to eliminate the “Indian problem”—that is, to absorb the Aboriginal population into the dominant Canadian identity, and to impose Christianity, English or French as the primary languages, and the abandonment of cultural and family traditions. St. Michael’s Indian Residential School in Alert Bay was one of 140 Indian residential schools that operated in Canada. (quote from the Museum of Anthropology page regarding an exhibition I just learned about and must go see.)


It is located right next to the U’mista Cultural Centre which I wrote about yesterday. One side about a loss of culture, pride, language and family connection, the other about reviving pride in one’s culture, language and history.


Viewing this was all very very disturbing for us all, and quite the eye opener for our European visitors. It still remains with me, making this a difficult post to write. Man’s inhumanity to man.


This scene is in the grassy treed area in front of the school. In its innocence, it still made me sad when thinking of the long ago suffering children, yet suggesting hope and happiness for today’s.

We were to learn that while we were here, back in Vancouver was a huge gathering of First Nations from across Canada for the Truth and Reconciliation Week. There were many many articles in the media about this event, but I’ll just post a few below should you be interested. Do at least visit the first one, a heartwarming story by a local well-known blogger who was there:

Walking Reconciliation by Chris Corrigan

CBC: Seeking Truth and Reconciliation in Vancouver

To Break Residential Schools’ Dark Legacy, Understand Why

ADDED later: more photos of St. Michael’s

November 5, 2013 in Canada and BC, Culture, History, Travel by Marja-Leena